Don’t look now but the #19 Denver Pioneers (6-8-1, 21 pts) have quietly won three of five games since their underwhelming performance at the NCHC Pod in Omaha. DU’s latest victory came against the upstart #11 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (8-4-1, 24 pts) who have ridden their hot start to the season to third place in the NCHC. The victorious 4-1 effort in their first return to Omaha since the Pod not only extended Denver’s unbeaten streak against Omaha to 19 straight games and puts the Pioneers back in position for home-ice advantage to begin the postseason. Another victory in game two of the series tomorrow night will vault them back into the top half of the conference in fourth place.
If DU’s 4-1 victory over North Dakota last Sunday was their best performance of the season, tonight’s identical 4-1 victory over Omaha was a close second. Denver was relentless on and off the puck throughout the night, kept Omaha from generating any dangerous even-strength chances, and took advantage of abundant Maverick mistakes to bury the hosts on the scoreboard. Denver outshot Omaha 30-24 and importantly, won the faceoff battle 39-30, something they have struggled to do consistently this year. It was a key and impressive effort in all three zones on a night where their starting goalie, Magnus Chrona, was not available due to the hit he sustained by North Dakota’s Grant Mismash on Monday – Mismash was suspended for North Dakota’s game against Colorado College tonight and there is no timetable for Chrona’s return as he is not in Omaha with DU this weekend.
Denver’s onslaught started, oddly enough, with a shorthanded goal from Antti Tuomisto. The first goal of the freshman defenseman’s collegiate career gave Denver the 1-0 lead but it didn’t last long as Matt Miller redirected a Jack Randl shot past Corbin Kaczperski to tie it back up on the same power play. But from there, it was all Pioneers. Hank Crone scored barely a minute into the second on a two-on-one to give the Pioneers a lead they would not relinquish. Carter Savoie and Jaakko Heikkinen each added a goal for good measure to seal the 4-1 victory. Savoie, scoring his ninth goal of the season, cleaned up the rebound off of a Cole Guttman backhanded shot on the rush while Heikkinen took advantage of a backhanded pass from Jandric who was below the net, and finished with a shot up high past UNO goaltender Isaiah Saville.
Denver’s even-strength production was clicking at a high level but once again, the power play couldn’t find the back of the net in any of its five chances. Thanks to the Pios’ haplessness with the extra skater, Omaha was able to extend its penalty-killing streak to 42. After going 0-for-10 against North Dakota last weekend, this was not the kind of extra-man effort that the Pioneers were hoping to get.
But beyond its struggling special teams, the challenge for Denver throughout this season has been to maintain any semblance of consistency, especially so far in the second half of the season. In their splits against CC and North Dakota, the Pioneers had one game against each where they looked like the best hockey team in the country while they looked like a team without a purpose in the other. So while another 4-1 victory over a ranked opponent is a good thing, the challenge for Denver will be finding a way to replicate it tomorrow night in their rematch with Omaha. The puck drops at Baxter Arena at the same time tomorrow, 5:07pm MT.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) January 24, 2021
— Omaha Video (@OmahaVID) January 24, 2021
Top photo: Nebraska-Omaha Athletics
Goal videos: The NCHC